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Review Group - Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1

Zero had the pick for new comics shipping August 4th and he selected Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1 by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Stenbeck.


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The Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse’s News Stand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate.

This week the Review Group ponders the question, if you're going to adapt your own novel, shouldn't you start at the beginning?
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0804-baltimore_cover.jpgReview by john lewis hawk

Like Hellboy and B.R.P.D., this is another great thing from Mike Mignola. The story was very good and the art was almost better than Mignola's. Helluva good thing.

8


Review by Eli Katz

BALTIMORE PLAGUE SHIPS #1, the new horror-fantasy book written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, is an uneven and disappointing opening issue. The biggest problem with this book is that, after reading it, I don't know enough about its main characters or care enough about its creepy world to be interested in picking up the next issue.

The book is set in an alternate universe, where plague and vampires have overtaken World War I Europe. Lord Henry Baltimore, the title character of this five-part miniseries, is hunting down a particularly nasty vampire in a dark French town and, in the process, risks not only his life but also a jail sentence. There is something intrinsically compelling about such a macabre atmosphere and premise. Who doesn’t enjoy a good old-fashioned horror story, filled with foggy streets, dark alleyways, and all the other fun Gothic gimmicks?

Unfortunately, there is nothing behind these gimmicks to give this story any substance. The characters In PLAGUE SHIPS #1 are all cardboard cutouts -- especially the protagonist. We are shown that Lord Baltimore is a highly driven man, who will stop at nothing to kill vampires. But why exactly is he so driven? Who knows? I guess because vampires are bad and Baltimore is one of those really obsessed van Helsing-types who all too often populate horror stories. Rather than provide some explanation or greater character background, Mignola and Golden decide to write an opening chase scene that is mostly wordless and takes up nearly half of the first issue. That’s right: you can flip through the first half of PLAGUE SHIPS in thirty seconds and not miss any plot points.

This type of opening works well in movies and TV shows, where hair-raising stunts can by themselves be entertaining enough to sustain a viewer's interest for several minutes until the exposition catches up to the action. But in the opening issue of a comic that costs over three bucks, no thanks. This is weak storytelling. As long as comics are going to be sold as singles, creators owe it to readers to provide them with over twenty pages of fun that are worthwhile on their own and not simply teaser material that might, eight months down the road, read well once it's part of a larger collection. Yes, a comic doesn’t always need words to tell a rich story. But it helps, especially with an opening issue where the characters are unfamiliar to readers and the world is ill defined.

Because so much of the book is without text, the best part of PLAGUE SHIPS is the art. Ben Stenbeck's illustrations are indeed solid. They evoke the Mignola style of art, without simply being weak imitations of that style. They are reminiscent, in other words, but at the same time original. Stenbeck also does a great job of making France look appropriately sick and dark and trapped in an occult past. Best of all, he makes the vampires in this book look ugly and monstrous. There are no sexy vamps here, just evil-looking bloodsuckers. Yet, as good as the art is, it isn't good enough for me to recommend this book.

STORY: 3.5
ART: 7
OVERALL : 5.25

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Review by Victorian Squid

Imagine my surprise when I read elsewhere that the source material for this introductory issue was taken from a Lord Baltimore novel Mike Mignola wrote in 2007 entitled Baltimore,: Or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. (The title of the prose book may actually tell one more about Lord Baltimore than the entire comic!) This wouldn't be very interesting if not for the fact this comic picks up somewhere in the middle of the novel, allegedly, which made a lot of sense to me after reading issue #1. Because on page one, it even says "Lord Baltimore's quest continues.." after a brief caption box telling the reader this is France in the year 1916, and another mentioning a plague ending the war (presumably WWI).

And Lord Baltimore if off and running--I confess his prosthetic leg didn't really register with me much on the first read through. After silently dispatching a couple fiends, the panel with the vampire addressing himself in 3rd person as Max confused me since this is the first dialogue in the book--another example of an odd starting point.

The scenes with Baltimore efficiently dispatching his foes are interspersed with occasional panels of an old woman scrying at him in a bucket or something. When the remaining vampires seem to flee to a damaged zeppelin (more questions of what has already happened), Baltimore confounds things even more by shouting "..Not until you tell me where he is!" Who? Who?? Later I gather it's the head bloodsucker he's after, but the scene is made even more baffling when a red bird is shown flying from a dead vampire's craw. What the hell?

LB hooks up with the witch and her daughter, and his cursed past is alluded to as we learn at least that he is pursuing Haigus, some sort of vampire progenitor who spreads plague wherever he goes. LB is then attacked and jailed by the paranoid locals, which sort of came out of nowhere but served to ally him with the witch's daughter and give him a probable antagonist as well, an inquisitor sent for by the town.

The art was exactly what you'd expect from a Hellboy or B.P.R.D. comic if a little stiff sometimes. Part of the problem with the book is how similar it is to those and other Dark Horse offerings--it's not clear here in issue #1 who Lord Baltimore is or what territory the book will explore that hasn't been done several times over in those other books. One isn't given enough info about the main character to understand or empathize with him much, which is what makes Hellboy or Ape Sapien and the others in the B.P.R.D. interesting characters and comics, not just the cool horror backdrops alone.

Since my reaction to issue #1 falls somewhere between Hawk's and Katz's, I give it a score to match:

6.625

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Review by starlord

I've only read the first trade of Hellboy by Mike Mignola and thought is was okay. It didn't wow me like it did most people so I wasn't sure what to expect with this. Unfortunately after reading it twice I really don't have any real solid feeling either positive or negative.

The art was really good, and is what will probably raise my score a bit, but the story just didn't have enough to grab me. I'm a bit burned out with the whole vampire genre at the moment and the protagonist was not somebody I really became interested in... at all.

If you are a huge fan of Mignola then I have no doubt you are going to enjoy this thourougly; but I am going to stick with Hellboy and eventually BPRD.

Story: 5
Art: 8
My Score: 6.75

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Review by Zero

The story here starts in the middle of Henry Baltimore's quest, and though I haven't read the original story, I wasn't too lost here. English noble chasing evil Vampire across the Continent happens into typical Mignola style European village. Fangs and crones ensue.

The story is fairly typical Mignola, and while I'm a big fan of Hellboy I would have preffred this to be a little different. The protagonist is certainly louder but with little more to go on than vague prophecy and pulpy violence the Hellboy feel wouldn't shake itself. Not a bad thing by any means, but a thing nonetheless.

The art was brilliant. Less detailed and angular than Mignola's work, Ben Steinbeck uses shadows well and tells a clean story with plenty of atmosphere. No complaints to be had really, it's far from generic and there are far worse people to ape than Mike Mignola.

Not quite the dizzy highs of Hellboy or BPRD, but still a nice little book that made me want to check out the novel it came from before making my mind up on the next four issues.

8

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Review by John Snow

I'm a big fan of the Mignola-verse comics. Over the past 2 years I think I've read pretty much everything but the novels. As a result, I'm as clueless as everyone else when it comes to Lord Baltimore. If he was mentioned in Hellboy or B.P.R.D. I don't remember it.

This issue feels more like a second issue than a first. You're dropped into the action and it's a nice comic on it's own, but it lacks the context to make the reader understand or care about the whos or whys regarding the events. While this issue hasn't put me off reading the eventual trade, this comic does seem to have the expectation that the reader has already read the novel.

I didn't love Ben Stenbeck's art on the recent Witchfinder series, but he's made a big jump with Baltimore. His storytelling has improved and the book has a nice flow in both the action and talking head sequences. Dave Stewart's colors are brilliant as always and are a huge part of defining the look of all the Mignola books.

Story: 6
Art: 9
Overall: 7.5

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Review by Sire

Story - The Story was interesting. We open with a chase and instantly I see we are dealing with the super natural.

The 1 legged hero seems cool but honestly not much happened in this issue. There was no character introduction. Near the end of the issue I learn his name is Henry Baltimore but that is all I know about him.

Its only because someone else posted that this comic is taken from the middle of the book that I knew to not expect to really understand anything. The story is straight forward. He is hunting for a vampire (don't know why) He was led to this city, he cleared it out of vampires but the locals still detained him. A female interest will help him escape and move on. To much background was missing for me to feel compelled to read any further. To me Baltimore is your typical bad ass protanganist, but i don't even know why he is so bad ass. This comic definitely should of had a recap page to explain the parts of the book I am unfamiliar with.

Art - the works and I enjoyed it reminds me of powers. but I enjoyed it and it fit the mood of the story

Story - 6
Art - 6
Overall - 6

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Review by SilverPhoenix

What happens when you take a liberally used concept, put it in a setting which is unusual, and add a character's who sole mission is to stop the infection from spreading and consuming the rest of Europe?

You get Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1, whose post-apocalyptic setting places itself in the Summer of 1916, just six months after the end of “The Great War.” However, as everyone knows, the War didn't end until the Mid-Fall of 1918, which raises the question of what could have happened for the war to end so early?

That's where the concept of this book comes in. Apparently a virus has turned most of Europe (if not the world) into Vampire-like Zombies, with an insatiable need to feed on human flesh. To add to the bleakness of the situation, people can be infected with this virus, eventually becoming Zombies themselves. The result is a world that lives in fear of every passing moment, due to the fact that this sickness can either claim, or kill them.

Now, when I first heard about this concept, I was immediately interested in seeing how it played out. On the surface, we have a fresher take on something that has permeated pop-culture for nearly 60 years, and has been the subject of many pieces of literature, cinema and video games, just to name a few of the mediums that it has been featured in. On that same level, this new twist is a welcomed take on the genre, overall. Still, was the creative team able to take the promise, and weave it into an instant winner?

The answer, sad to say, has this book coming out slightly on the losing end.

On one hand, this book features an excellent art. Ben Stenbeck literally goes to town, and gives us an amazing image of a world in extremely dark times. Every image and color works extremely well in transporting us into a place that's had most of, if not all of its hope sucked out of it. Everything we see from the gray days, to the hallowing rainy night, to the people living in extreme paranoia is only enhanced due to the great care each panel is drawn with. It's a credit to the artist, and to the book itself. It sets the mood in the best way possible.

However, the art is not able to save the most disappointing thing about this book, and that's the main character, itself. From the beginning of this book, we see that's there's one character who is able to stand up to this menace, and that is the Titular character, himself. It's established that he can easily take care off most of the flunkey riffraff that we see in this book. We also learn that he's out to take out each one in hopes to contain the virus. However, that is all we learn. At no point, do we learn anything significant about the character's motivations for what he is doing, and as such, he comes off as a generic zombie hunter, that one can see in almost every story like this. In fact, since we don't learn anything about those motivations, it takes away from the interactions he has with the other characters. It just makes it harder to care about him, and the rest of his supporting cast.

Thanks to some more informed people, I learned that 'Baltimore', is actually 'Lord Baltimore', the main character of a series that Mike Mingnola co-writes. This knowledge puts things into perspective, as one can safely ascertain that we're dropped right into the story (if not the middle of an already on-going story), and that most of the readers would already be familiar with the concepts presented. Something that leaves new readers out in the cold.

Still, the book isn't a total loss. Even with the disappointment of the character work, the story still worked, and it still held my interest in the whole entire world that the creators were giving us to chew on. It even makes me want to find out more about the novel itself, and at least read the 2nd Issue to see if they can actually make us care about the characters. But, it still seems like an opportunity was missed , by not giving more attention to 'Lord Baltimore' himself.

The Verdict

Art: ****1/4 (8.5 on a scale of 10) - The Art establishes the mood and the setting. It works almost perfectly.

Story: **1/4 (4.5 on a Scale of 10) - The story itself works, it's the main character that doesn't stand out, which in turn helps everyone stand out less.

Accessibility: *** (6 on a Scale of 10) – This book is definitely readable by itself, but once you learn where it's from, odds are, you're going to be a bit confused, and you might not want to find out more

Final Breakdown (Cumulative Score of the Three Scales, plus personal intangibles): *** (6 on a Scale of 10): This book scores extra points on its potential, and fresher outtake, but the inadequate character work bars if from scoring any higher.

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Review by BlueStreak

BlueStreak's Short Reviews for Comics that Don't Matter

This was mediocrity at it's finest. I barely remember this comic despite reading it only two days ago.

4
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That gives Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1  a group score of 6.46.  Every score under 7 proves a pro-supes bias obviously, but especially that BlueStreaker.

For what McKegan calls "all the geeky, bitchy arguing about comics you'd expect from a comic message board condensed into absolute awesomeness", check out this week's thread in The News Stand forum.

Comment or post your own review!
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Dragavon has the pick for next week and he has selected Thor: The Mighty Avengers #3 published by Marvel Comics.  Look for the new thread in The News Stand forum where I'm sure the bitchiness has already reached a fevered pitch. 

0811-thorma3_cover.jpgThor: The Mighty Avengers #3

WRITER: ROGER LANGRIDGE
PENCILS: CHRISTOPHER SAMNEE

The Mighty Re-Imaging of the God of Thunder Rumbles On! What do famed scientist Henry Pym and the lovely Janet Van Dyne have to do with a recent murder? And why is Thor seeing visions of his beloved Asgard? Rated A …$2.99


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